I am the youngest of three girls in my family. The baby. My parents had three girls all within three years. My mother was told she would never be able to have children. She had a retroverted uterus (a tipped or tilted uterus) and back in the 50s, apparently some doctors believed this was a big cause of infertility. My mother used to tell the story of how ecstatic she was when she found out she was pregnant with my oldest sister. Upon hearing the happy news from her doctor, she said she drove home singing all the way with the windows down on the car and telling complete strangers that SHE was going to have a baby. Back in the day when my mother was having her babies, doctors usually administered general anesthesia for the birth. My mother said you found out the sex of your baby when you woke up in the recovery room, by looking to see what color armband they had put on you. If it was blue, you had given birth to a boy, if it was pink you had given birth to a girl. I was supposed to be a boy. But when my mother woke up after my birth, she said the first thing she did was look at her wrist, and there it was… another pink band. You had to know my mother and her sense of humor to appreciate her reaction, but she said that the first thing she did when she saw that 3rd pink armband was to say, ” OH DAMN, NOT ANOTHER GIRL!” Her story, one that I heard multiple times during my life, was that the woman in the bed next to her laughed and said, “Well, I just had my 3rd boy, you wanna trade?” I guess I should be grateful my mother didn’t take her up on that.
My sisters and I fought like cats and dogs growing up. I’m pretty sure we all three have battle scars to prove it. Both my sisters always had long fingernails (I didn’t) and I was always getting scratched. And being the youngest, I think I always came out on the worst end of the fights. We had some good ones. I can still hear my father yelling, “SEPARATE, SEPARATE” as he would get in the middle to break us up. He would sit each of us in a separate room until our tempers calmed down. And I can remember my mother asking us, “WHY CAN’T YOU ALL THREE JUST LEARN TO PLAY TOGETHER?”
My sisters and I are all in our early 50s now and are pretty close. I’m not sure when the fighting stopped exactly, but it did. While growing up, I shared a bedroom with my oldest sister. I just couldn’t wait until she went off to college so I could FINALLY have the bedroom to myself! The week she left, I can distinctly remember crying myself to sleep at night because yes, you guessed it, I missed her. Never thought I would admit to it, but I did. I missed her yelling at me for hogging the bed and the covers, and I missed our fights over the settings on our electric blanket. It seemed lonely in our bedroom without her and her things being there.
My parents are gone now. We lost both to cancer. My mother passed away in December of 2006, a couple of weeks before Christmas. She was sick for almost two years before she passed away and she told my sisters and me many times before she died that she wanted us to all get along after she was gone and she especially didn’t want us fighting over “her things.” She had watched close friends pass away and then went on to watch the children of those friends have bitter disagreements and resentments for years to come over the family heirlooms. This broke my mother’s heart and she told us many times that she didn’t want that to happen to us. We assured her it would not. She made us promise. My parents weren’t rich by any means and didn’t have a lot to fight over in the first place, but any antiques they had or anything with a lot of family sentiment was divided before my mother’s death. I am happy to say that we kept our promise to my mother in that we did not fight over any “family things.” When it came time to start going through the house and dividing things like dishes and figurines and tablecloths and jewelry, we sat in the middle of the living room floor and we worked it all out in a very civil manner. We all three absolutely dreaded going through my parents things after my mother died, (who wouldn’t) but we made the best of it and to our surprise, even shared some good laughs while talking about old memories which was fun. There were times that we laughed and times that we were brought to tears. But we never fought. Not once.
I think my sisters and I have become much closer since our parents have died. Even though the three of us grew up, married, had kids and all moved to the same area (within 20 minutes of the neighborhood we had grown up in), we never did much together or saw much of each other once we married. We would see each other when we needed each other to baby sit for one another, or at holidays when our families would get together, but that was about it. We were busy with our families, our homes and our careers.
It is hard losing a parent at any time of the year, but losing one right before Christmas was especially hard. Like I mentioned before, mother was sick for two years prior to her death. The stress level was high and my sisters and I were exhausted taking turns caring for mother while also trying to care for our own families. My sisters also both worked outside the home which was especially stressful on them, so I usually took mother to most of her appointments. Those two years were filled with doctors appointments, seeing specialists at Vanderbilt, surgery, going through chemo treatments, getting scans and X-rays, and blood work, taking mother to the store, etc. She was under hospice care for the last 9 months. Six months of that was hospice care at home, one month was in a hospital hospice unit, then a nursing home for a week, and then a hospice residence for the last 2 months of her life. While she was in the hospice residence we felt as if we were on an emotional roller coaster, being told by doctors multiple times that our mother was near death and we “needed to come now”, only to have her live for weeks afterwards each time. But she died just before Christmas. The holidays were going to be hard that year. We were tired exhausted and we were lost. That Christmas was a fog. I didn’t even put up a Christmas tree that year. The next year when Christmas rolled around, it was full of memories and what we had been through the previous year. And there was the one year anniversary of our mother’s death that we had to go through. That year, my sister Paula suggested that we all three buy tickets to go together to see the musical, White Christmas. So we did. We bought the tickets, got all dressed up, went and had dinner, and then went to the show. In the pouring rain. We were drenched. But we were together and we bonded that night. I can’t really explain it, but when you lose your last parent, you wake up one morning, and it dawns on you that you are now an adult orphan. And that’s hard to deal with. So here we were, the three adult orphans, who were grieving the first anniversary of our mother’s death, out together and having a good time! We decided that this “sisterly outing” was going to be a yearly Christmas tradition. The following year, we went to see The Nutcracker Ballet, and last year, we went to see The Rockettes in their Radio City Christmas Spectacular show. Who knows what this year will bring?
Next weekend, my sisters and I are taking our first little weekend road trip together. We are travelling to Peoria, Illinois, to a Dan Fogelberg Memorial Dedication weekend celebration. My sister Paula has always been a huge fan of Dan Fogelberg and so she wasn’t going to miss this for the world. So she asked her sisters to tag along on the trip. It should be interesting. Maybe, just maybe, a weekend trip together will become a yearly tradition too, like the Christmas outings. And maybe there will be more bonding. I think my mother would be proud… it seems her daughters have finally all three learned to play together. We will keep that promise we made to her.